Wednesday, September 14, 2005

CW on Hurricane Katrina

My thanks to jazztheo for directing me to this article.

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Exiles from a city and from a nation

Cornel West
Sunday September 11, 2005
The Observer

It takes something as big as Hurricane Katrina and the misery we saw among the poor black people of New Orleans to get America to focus on race and poverty. It happens about once every 30 or 40 years.

What we saw unfold in the days after the hurricane was the most naked manifestation of conservative social policy towards the poor, where the message for decades has been: 'You are on your own'. Well, they really were on their own for five days in that Superdome, and it was Darwinism in action - the survival of the fittest. People said: 'It looks like something out of the Third World.' Well, New Orleans was Third World long before the hurricane.

It's not just Katrina, it's povertina. People were quick to call them refugees because they looked as if they were from another country. They are. Exiles in America. Their humanity had been rendered invisible so they were never given high priority when the well-to-do got out and the helicopters came for the few. Almost everyone stuck on rooftops, in the shelters, and dying by the side of the road was poor black.

In the end George Bush has to take responsibility. When [the rapper] Kanye West said the President does not care about black people, he was right, although the effects of his policies are different from what goes on in his soul. You have to distinguish between a racist intent and the racist consequences of his policies. Bush is still a 'frat boy', making jokes and trying to please everyone while the Neanderthals behind him push him more to the right.

Poverty has increased for the last four or five years. A million more Americans became poor last year, even as the super-wealthy became much richer. So where is the trickle-down, the equality of opportunity? Healthcare and education and the social safety net being ripped away - and that flawed structure was nowhere more evident than in a place such as New Orleans, 68 per cent black. The average adult income in some parishes of the city is under $8,000 (£4,350) a year. The average national income is $33,000, though for African-Americans it is about $24,000. It has one of the highest city murder rates in the US. From slave ships to the Superdome was not that big a journey.

New Orleans has always been a city that lived on the edge. The white blues man himself, Tennessee Williams, had it down in A Streetcar Named Desire - with Elysian Fields and cemeteries and the quest for paradise. When you live so close to death, behind the levees, you live more intensely, sexually, gastronomically, psychologically. Louis Armstrong came out of that unbelievable cultural breakthrough unprecedented in the history of American civilisation. The rural blues, the urban jazz. It is the tragi-comic lyricism that gives you the courage to get through the darkest storm.

Charlie Parker would have killed somebody if he had not blown his horn. The history of black people in America is one of unbelievable resilience in the face of crushing white supremacist powers.

This kind of dignity in your struggle cuts both ways, though, because it does not mobilise a collective uprising against the elites. That was the Black Panther movement. You probably need both. There would have been no Panthers without jazz. If I had been of Martin Luther King's generation I would never have gone to Harvard or Princeton.

They shot brother Martin dead like a dog in 1968 when the mobilisation of the black poor was just getting started. At least one of his surviving legacies was the quadrupling in the size of the black middle class. But Oprah [Winfrey] the billionaire and the black judges and chief executives and movie stars do not mean equality, or even equality of opportunity yet. Black faces in high places does not mean racism is over. Condoleezza Rice has sold her soul.

Now the black bourgeoisie have an even heavier obligation to fight for the 33 per cent of black children living in poverty - and to alleviate the spiritual crisis of hopelessness among young black men.

Bush talks about God, but he has forgotten the point of prophetic Christianity is compassion and justice for those who have least. Hip-hop has the anger that comes out of post-industrial, free-market America, but it lacks the progressiveness that produces organisations that will threaten the status quo. There has not been a giant since King, someone prepared to die and create an insurgency where many are prepared to die to upset the corporate elite. The Democrats are spineless.

There is the danger of nihilism and in the Superdome around the fourth day, there it was - husbands held at gunpoint while their wives were raped, someone stomped to death, people throwing themselves off the mezzanine floor, dozens of bodies.

It was a war of all against all - 'you're on your own' - in the centre of the American empire. But now that the aid is pouring in, vital as it is, do not confuse charity with justice. I'm not asking for a revolution, I am asking for reform. A Marshall Plan for the South could be the first step.

· Dr Cornel West is professor of African American studies and religion at Princeton University. His great grandfather was a slave. He is a rap artist and appeared as Counsellor West in Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions.

Interview by Joanna Walters, in Princeton, New Jersey


jholder said...

Good article. However, when he says "...he has forgotten the point of prophetic Christianity is compassion and justice for those who have least." (emphasis added)

That is certainly a point of Christianity, but ultimately the point is the salvation of our souls, the remaking us into the image of Christ. Now it is true that this involves the need for us to do charitable works to follow in the path of our Lord, but it is not the point of Christianity, it is but an effect of the real main point of Christianity (following Christ and submitting our human sinfulness and desire for His will) being lived out.

No matter how much we improve the lot of humanity (say we even completely eliminate poverty someday, taking the ideal all the way) we will still have merely replaced poverty with other temptations and worldly goods that could still prevent the salvation of the person.

Don't get me wrong, we need to care for the poor — but to call it the point of Christianity is to disregard a great deal of what it means to be a Christian.

voixdange said...

He did not say the point of Christianity he said the point of prophetic Christianity. This is very important and has a very distinct meaning in regards to Dr. West's other writings.
Its kind of hard to imagine people being drawn to salvation by a mindset that so completely disregards them, treating as less than human, not even worth saving from drowning.

voixdange said...

To be a little more clear, prophetic Christianity draws heavily from the themes of justice as found in Prophetic writings such as the book of Amos. It is felt that it is more or at least as effective to demonstrate the Gospel message in showing compassion to those in need, rather than just talking about it and leaving them to fend for themselves. Christ preached and fed the people. As they say -- talk is cheap.

jazztheo said...

I must be losing it but I can't remember if I already sent this to you.

Are you familiar with the comic strip Boondocks. I love it! It looks like this weeks series of strips will be interesting. The following link should allow you to look at past strips and see future ones as well.

If you are not familiar with Boondocks and want to know more, just let me know.

Love your blog.

jazztheo said...


good distinction on prophetic Christianity.

Question, what should the qualifying adjective be for the opposite of Prophetic Christianity?

voixdange said...

A.W.O.L Christianity?
Myopic Christianity?
Stuck in the mudology?

I don't know jazztheo, I'll have to ponder it a little further...
btw...I love Boondocks, will look up the link later today. Thanks.

Constantine said...

This article gives me pause. Some truth mixed in with I don't know what.

When West says, "husbands held at gunpoint while their wives were raped, someone stomped to death...," how and why and what does this have to do with "white" America?

voixdange said...

how and why and what does this have to do with "white" America?

I'm not really understanding where you are getting that he is tying it to White America. I think he is addressing the many aspects of the failure in New Orleans including conservative social policy, racist consequences of public policy, resistence to the mobilization of the Black poor against elites, lack of progressive organizations that threaten the status quo, Black bourgeoisie such as Condoleezza Rice... I didn't sense at all that He was saying that "This is all the White man's fault." It seemed to me that He spread the blame pretty evenly... In fact if you read his writing he veers away from an "Us against them" mentality.

jazztheo said...

remind me never to get into an argument with you!

A.W.O.L--Myopic--Stuck...those are funny, keep going.

voixdange said...

remind me never to get into an argument with you!

Oh I that bad.

jholder said...

I just don't see a need to separate 'prophetic Christianity' (which I know know is really a techincal term for living part of the gospel) from the rest of the good news that is Christianity - but if that is what CW wants to do, it is okay, as long as he realizes that is is only part of the full faith. (As you know, I've only read him through your posts, so this may well be so. He's on my list to read now though...)

You will of course note, my friend, that I did say it is an important consequence of our faith (if we really live the gospel) to show compassion. I certainly wasn't advocating "just talking about it and leaving them to fend for themselves" nor did I hint as such. I also agree it is an effective demonstration of the Gospel. I just don't see a need for an odd technical category for "prophetic Christianity" as if it could be isolated and dissected from the rest of the gospel. It doesn't even cover the fullness of the purpose of the prophetic books and their intersection with the gospel, only a subset of what is involved in them, so it seems incomplete to me either way.

[[Probably that math minor I have - the intersection of the two sets doesn't make sense the way it seemed to be used]]

voixdange said...

May I refer you to my most recent post, Hoppin mad. I have never been more convinced of the need for "prophetic Christianity" than I am at this moment. And I would posit that it not only embraces the fullness of the gospel is Christianity in its fullness.
It is in a nutshell "Don't just tell people about Christ, show them Christ."

Constantine said...

I'll take you at your word mi amiga. I know very little of or about Dr. West. Much of what you've posted on Inexpugnable from him has been very good in my estimation.

The reason I said what I did is because from the context of the article link it seemed inferred. If I'm wrong I accept that. Also, from my limited exposure he seems to have a Malcolm X anger vs. MLK Jr., who was a living example of doing as Christ preached.

I'll tell you this though. If that situation happened to me, I hope and pray that I'd make them have to happily shoot my ass because I'd rather be damned (literally) than stand around and watch that happen.

voixdange said...

Dr. West actually speaks about the difference between Dr.King and Malcolm X and how he gravitates to Dr. King.
Would you be shocked C if I told you that I love Malcolm X? Not the one that called the White man the devil, but the one who was transformed by Mecca. Whatever people beleive about Malcolm, he was genuinely a sold out sincere soul. As opposed to those who sought personal gain over the welfair of the movement. Have you seen the Spike Lee movie?
I regret as King did that Malcolm left the church, but I also understand it as well. The church institutionally abandoned the movement. Well maybe I should say the White church... I'm sorry...its so hard to express what I am really trying to say. I remember how I felt
before I moved to this neighborhood and became exposed to the ideas of Malcolm X and others...he was very much a Boogy man in my mind. But there needs to be a foundation laid before one can really understand the writings of Malcolm X and Cornel West...otherwise they do come
across, well you call it angry,but this is what i was talking about in my post, "I didn't understand." But I promise if you met Dr. West, you would feel differently.

jholder said...

Okay, so "prophetic Christianity draws heavily from the themes of justice as found in Prophetic writings such as the book of Amos. It is felt that it is more or at least as effective to demonstrate the Gospel message in showing compassion to those in need, rather than just talking about it and leaving them to fend for themselves."

So when CW says "...he has forgotten the point of prophetic Christianity is compassion and justice for those who have least."

That, run through the technical decoder, says: "...he has forgotten the point of [showing compassion to those in need, rather than just talking about it] is compassion and justice for those who have least."

That is circular and tautological. I do get the point, but it still seems poorly worded here.

By the way, I DO share your outrage at what happened re: how the other local churches claimed to "not have enough resources". Hogwash.

voixdange said...

Thank you Jholder.Actually, I was hoping to send you an email through your blog, but didn't see a link. Honestly knowing Dr.West I am entirely sure that it is purely a matter of poor wording, or poor reporting on the part of the interviewer and that if Dr. West were to respond himself he could lay any concerns to rest on that matter. That was probably the first response I should have had to your comment at it is the most likely answer to your question. But I think that all of us who endeavor to have the heart of Christ in this situation which to me is inclusive of you, Dr. West and so many others are all a little on the frayed edge at this time, so no, we may not word things exactly as we should, maybe we are a bit touchy, maybe a bit floundering...I am so struggling to wrap my mind around this...and still everytime I turn around it seems like another bomb is dropped... people found dead in nursing homes, churches refusing just to open up their arms and extend love to people, people trying to blame the victims... I'm just struggling to not be overwhelmed by it all.

jholder said...

Amen. I'm not sure it is possible to not be totally overwhelmed by something of this magnitude. Kyrie elison.

voixdange said...

Well, how I wish I could agree with you on that one jholder, but I guess I would have to agree with my pastor who said that you if you can't feel this tragedy you don't have a heart.

jazztheo said...

No angevoix, your not that bad, your that articulate!

Malcolm X...I believe it was James Cone who said that if you can listen to the life of Malcolm X and to his critique of the church then you might be able to be a Christian.

voixdange said...

If I'm not mistaken, Gandhi shared similar critiques of Christianity after being thrown out of an Anglo church... does this not illustrate the importance of social justice and compassion for the oppressed? Can we really expect people to be drawn to the Gospel message when we are speaking out of both sides of our mouths and living a dualistic lifestyle?

Thanks for the compliment btw. I appreciate it. My spelling on the otherhand...

Constantine said...

Mi Amiga,

What do you mean "transformed" by Mecca in reference to Malcolm X?

hipchickmamma said...

awesome post angievox! i'm so grateful for all your work and posts. i think (and i apologize if this has already been said) that prophetic christianity is neccessary because mainline/typical christianity has become dead, it is w/o living out the life of Christ. at least here in the U.S.

btw i just picked up a great book (although i'm not sure when i'll be able to actually read it) it's called Reading the Bible With the Damned by Bob Ekblad.

"To seek God is to seek Justice. To seek Justice is to seek God."--William Holladay.

keep preaching Angievox!

voixdange said...

hank you HCM.

You really should either see the movie or read the autobiography to get a better picture of Malcolm X, but to try to put it in a nutshell:
Malcolm X became disillusioned with Elijah Muhammad after witnessing inconsistencies between the teachings and the lives of some of the leadership. He was also censured by the Nation of Islam and there was quite a bit of envy and rivalry over Malcolm's notoriety. After leaving the nation of Islam he took a trip to Mecca and went through a transformation after worshipping with muslims of every color and nationality. He came back a changed man and no longer espoused the ideas that the White man was the devil, etc...
There are so many reasons that I love Malcolm, but I think it is mainly just that he was so sold out a true beleiver who was really trying to walk his talk...He was willing to die for what he believed. He had a lot to say. He still does...
Also, I am very suspicious of those who never change their mind, or have to much pride to admit they were wrong about anything...ever.I admire greatly those who can admit mistakes and failures, especially before they are forced by circumstance to do so.

Constantine said...

I plan on seeing the movie now. I once watched the first 30 or so minutes and quit it.

Do you think Allah is another name for our Triune God?

As you can probably tell, I have some real problems with Islam and all that attends it.

voixdange said...

No, I don't personally beleive that Allah is another name for God. But I do beleive that regardless of how e feel about the doctrines of another religion we must show the utmost respect for the adherents of another faith at all times. What I find really amusing is that we have little girls at our school who are from the Nation of Islam. They hang all over me...obviously what they are feeling isn't condemnation. Just a little anecdote...

jazztheo said...


What's your story?

I see your in education

Your going to school...for what?

What's been your faith journey to Christ, Christianity, prophetic Christianity?

If this is in a previous post, just direct me. If not, speaking on behalf of those who love your blog because of your uniqueness, we'd like to know.

voixdange said...

So ya wanna know what makes the White Chick tick aye...LOL. Okay, I'll write a post about it. But you have to let me think a spell... I just got off work and I'm tuckered out...

jazztheo said...

Alright my sister you get some rest...but hey, i already learned something...your a white chick!